This recipe breaks down into three distinct processes. While none are overly time-consuming, you can make everything ahead and assemble the salad when ready to eat.
If you don’t have agave nectar, you can use honey instead, but keep in mind that this salad will no longer be vegan.
- Cook Time
- Prep Time
- 6-8 ServingsServings
For the tofu
- 1 package extra-firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes (read ingredient statement)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce (read ingredient statement)
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh peeled ginger
- 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
- 1 clove garlic, grated
For the salad
- 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 pound asparagus, bottoms trimmed, and spears cut into 2-inch pieces
- 10 ounces large shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 to 5 scallions, thinly sliced (white and light green parts; about 1 1⁄2 cups)
For the dressing
- 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
- 1⁄4 cup rice-wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- 2 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Toasted black sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
Marinate and roast the tofu
1. Position a rack on the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 375°F.
2. Put the tofu cubes on several layers of paper towels; cover with more paper towels and top with a cutting board to drain excess liquid. Let stand for several minutes, pressing down occasionally.
3. Arrange the tofu in a single layer in a rimmed baking dish. Combine the brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and garlic in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over the tofu and toss to coat. Let stand for 25 minutes. Remove the tofu from the marinade and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating halfway through cooking. Let cool completely.
Make the salad
1. Heat the sesame oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the barley and cook for 3 minutes, until lightly toasted. Add 5 cups water and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, until the barley is tender. Drain and let cool completely. Pour the barley into a large bowl.
2. Cook the asparagus in boiling water for 2 to 4 minutes (depending on the size of the spears), until crisp. Drain and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Pat dry and add to the barley.
3. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the tops of the mushrooms with the olive oil. Add the mushrooms to the pan, oiled side down. Cook for 5 minutes, until browned. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Let cool slightly, then slice the mushrooms thinly and add to the barley mixture, along with the scallions.
Make the dressing
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
Assemble the salad
Drizzle the dressing over the barley mixture and toss to coat. Evenly portion among serving plates, and top each serving with the gingered tofu and sesame seeds, if using. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
To make wheat-free and gluten-free
Substitute cooked quinoa for cooked pearl barley. Bring 1 cup quinoa, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1¼ cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
To make nut-free
Tree nuts and sesame seeds have proteins in common, so someone with a nut allergy might experience similar symptoms when eating sesame seeds. Although this recipe is nut-free, it does contain large amounts of sesame, so you might want to use regular olive oil instead of sesame oil and leave out the sesame seed garnish.
Serve with chilled junmai sake. Junmai sake is a pure sake, meaning no additional sugars or starches have been added. It is a medium-sweet, high-acid sake. Like other sakes, junmai sake is a rice wine and can be found at most liquor stores.
Nutrition information per serving (based on 8 servings): Calories: 245.3, Total Fat: 7.8g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 539.1mg, Total Carbohydrates: 37.1g, Dietary Fiber: 5.5g, Sugars: 13.7g, Protein: 9.8g